Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

Spelled throughout history as Lake Nephawin and as Lake Nepawhin, the sixty-acre lake located in the southwest corner of Bradford County, one mile south of Canton, was originally known as Gillett’s Pond. Popular writer and journalist Grace Greenwood, who had been dubbed “the Patriot” by President Abraham Lincoln for her ardent support of the U. S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, christened the lake with its present name in spring 1876. Greenwood—the pseudonym of Sarah Jane Clarke Lippincott (1823–1904) — was a guest at the Minnequa Springs Hotel, less than two miles north of Canton.

Built in 1869 by Peter Herdic (1824–1888), a Williamsport lumber baron and entrepreneur who promoted the medicinal benefits of the local mineral water and envisioned a resort as grand as New York’s Saratoga Springs, the Minnequa Springs Hotel was enlarged so that by 1876 it could comfortably accommodate six hundred guests, many of them accompanied by servants. In 1996, the PHMC installed a state historical marker in front of Herdic’s home on Williamsport’s West Fourth Street — “Millionaire’s Row” — to commemorate his role in making the city the “lumber capital of the world.”

The fashionable set that sojourned at Herdic’s mineral springs spa enjoyed a variety of entertainments, including carriage drives to picturesque Lake Nephawin. Such attention by distinguished vacationers led to Lake Nephawin’s emergence as a popular summer place in its own right. William Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha,” published in 1855, inspired Green to christen the lake “the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin.” The PHMC honored Greenwood as an early female newspaper correspondent, poet, and author with a state historical marker in 1969 at her residence, White Cottage, in New Brighton, Beaver County, where she wrote many of her juvenile stories.

Little is known about the development of Lake Nephawin as a resort. In the 1890s, an individual named Baldwin erected the commodious Lake Breeze Hotel on the lake’s north shore, drawing many residents of nearby Canton for dances, boating, and his wife’s famous Sunday dinners. Poor health forced the couple’s retirement and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) eventually acquired the hotel. The YWCA established a large camp for girls at the lake.

“Dear Clara,” wrote a camper named Effie to Mrs. Edwin Dingman of Fayette, New York, on Monday, August 11, 1913, “We have been enjoying it so much here & only a few more days to stay.” Every two weeks during summer months, about two hundred girls came and went. They generally stayed two weeks. YWCAs in several large cities, including Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Baltimore, sent girls to the camp. The YWCA sold the property after the retreat’s appeal waned. Acquired and sold by several organizations through the years, the former hotel is owned now by a church-related association.

Measuring eighty feet at its deepest, Lake Nephawin, ringed by nearly twenty cottages, is fed entirely by springs and has no inlet. Because its elevation is more than three hundred feet higher than Canton, it has supplied the community with most of its water since 1888.

Effie noted that in the height of the summer season, high in the mountain above Canton, the temperature was “awful cold,” requiring a “fire on an open hearth.” Nevertheless, she “just had Bible class & am going for a walk.”